Auburn, Ala. -- The No. 15 Auburn Tigers (5-2, 3-1 SEC) roll into Oxford on a high after walloping the Arkansas Razorbacks 56-3. Now Gus Malzahn's team will take on the beaten up Ole Miss Rebels (3-4, 1-3 SEC) in a matchup that should be very favorable for the visitors.
Auburn will be hoping to rectify a 27-19 loss from last year while Ole Miss will try and bounce back from a 38-21 defeat to the LSU Tigers. Kickoff is set for 6:15 p.m. CDTbon the SEC Network.
The Tigers are the leading rushers in the SEC and are ranked third in the nation averaging 302.9 yards per game on the ground. The backfield duo of Kamryn Pettway (team-leading 697 rushing yards, six touchdowns) and Kerryon Johnson (538 yards rushing, six TDs) will receive plenty of opportunities against the worst rushing defense in the SEC. The Rebels allow 226.9 rushing yards per game which puts them low on the totem pole nationally at 113th in the FBS.
For the Rebels to step up and curb the trend of being gashed in the run game they’ll need key defensive linemen in sophomore tackles Breeland Speaks (21 tackles, one sack, seven QB hurries) and senior D.J. Jones (17 tackles, one sack, one INT, one fumble recovery) to play above expectations. If they can get the Tigers in obvious passing situations Ole Miss might have a chance to unleash rush end Marquis Haynes (29 tackles with seven for losses, five sacks, one interception, three forced fumbles, one fumble recovery).
The leading tackler for the Landsharks is linebacker DeMarquis Gates (44 tackles, four sacks). He along with LB Detric Bing-Dukes (31 tackles, three for losses) will need to try to get the defense off the field quickly or else they will wear out fast in defensive coordinator Dave Wommack’s base 4-2-5 scheme.
An underrated Ole Miss secondary will take the field Saturday. The Rebels’ last line of defense, led by nickel back Tony Conner (20 tackles, four passes defensed), have only allowed six passing touchdowns this year which is equal with Auburn and ranks them both at eighth nationally. Starting free safety Zedrick Woods (42 tackles, four passes defensed, two INTs) and backup corner Derrick Jones (10 tackles, three passes defensed, two interceptions) are tied for the team lead in picks.
For Hugh Freeze and his team it’s been a tale of two halves all season. In the first half the Rebels have outscored their opponents 171-81 in the first 30 minutes of contests while in the second half of games they have been outscored 139-87.
The task for quarterback Chad Kelly (153-246 passing, 2,067 yards throwing, 15 touchdowns, seven INTs, 269 rushing yards, three rushing TDs) and the rest of the Rebel offense will be to score early and often like they have been, but also to keep the scoring going in the second act of games. This objective will be difficult to accomplish against the third best scoring defense in the country. The Tigers are holding teams to a low 14.1 points per contest.
Ole Miss’s offensive line took a couple of hits against LSU last weekend with ankle injuries suffered by both left tackle Rod Taylor and right guard Jordan Sims. Their backups are five-star freshman Greg Little at tackle as well as Daronte Bouldin at guard. If the two starters are unable to play that will make things even tougher vs. Auburn’s elite front four.
The strength of the Rebel attack is at receiver. The leading pass catcher is hybrid tight end/wide receiver Evan Engram (40 catches, 605 yards, five touchdowns). Included with him is Washington transfer Damore’ea Stringfellow (26 receptions, 423 yards, two TDs) and true freshmen Van Jefferson (26 catches, 303 yards, two touchdowns) and A.J. Brown (15 receptions, 201 yards, two TDs).
The rushing game is not a team strength for Ole Miss with the top carrier being Akeem Judd (80 rushes, 382 yards, four touchdowns) and Kelly coming in second on the team. Expect the Rebels to throw on the majority of their offensive plays.
Gary Wunderlich (10-11 on field goal attempts, long of 46) has been a very consistent kicker for Hugh Freeze with his only miss coming from 55 yards out against Georgia. Will Gleeson has been the main punter with 19 punts for an average of 44.6 yards per attempt. Wunderlich has also had his name called on occasion punting 10 times (45.5 average).